Featured Designer - Sylvia Pippen October 01 2016
What do you get when you combine sashiko with hand appliqué ? For me, it is my zen time. Living in South Florida, I was immediately attracted to the work of this month's Featured Designer with her tropical designs and use of vibrant colors. Please welcome Sylvia Pippen of Sylvia Pippen Designs!
Jen: Where were you born and raised? And where are you now?
Sylvia: I was born in the San Francisco Bay Area into a family of artists and musicians who influenced me at an early age. I am a classical flutist, and my other enduring passion is gardening. I was a landscape designer and perennial grower for many years in a small rural town in New England where we raised our two children.
I have loved cloth and sewn from a very early age alongside my mother, Kitty Pippen, a well known quilter who works with Japanese fabrics and sashiko. Always involved in needle arts, Kitty started her quilting career at age 70, wrote a bestselling book at 80, and is still going strong quilting up a storm at 96.
When the children left home, we swapped the forty acres for a 40 foot sailboat and had a series of sailing adventures, including sewing on an old Pfaff machine powered by a wind generator. I learned to make good quilts in cramped quarters, bad light as well as sewing canvas and sails. Instead of sailing to Hawaii, we flew over to visit a friend and fell in love with the islands. We sold the sailboat and moved to Kauai where I worked as a gardener in the National Tropical Botanical Garden.
My husband Peter, myself and our two dogs lived seven years on the Big island of Hawaii close to the ocean and lava flows. We had enough land to grow lots of tropical fruits, veggies and of course loads of flowers. In 2014, we made the move across the pond to the small town of La Conner in the Skagit Valley of Western Washington, two blocks from the wonderful La Conner Quilt and Textile Museum.
Jen: Tell us about your stitching journey. How did you learn to embroider? To quilt? Have you always enjoyed sashiko?
Sylvia: I am a hand quilter, and my niche is appliqué combined with sashiko. I was drawn to sashiko because my mother uses it in her Japanese quilts. I decided to try using it to outline non-traditional designs, especially foliage that is hard to capture in appliqué and was captivated by the effect. My latest venture is cyanotype and surface design to create unique fabric. Cyanotype, an old photographic process produces blue and white images on cloth when exposed to the sun, combining beautifully with sashiko and appliqué. Silk paints that act like dyes can also be sun printed, creating complementary fabric.
Jen: So, how did Sylvia Pippen Designs come to be?
Sylvia: I started my quilting career on Kauai, inspired by the flamboyant colors of the tropics and all the terrific Hawaiian quilters who encouraged me to design, along with my mother Kitty. My mother and I co-authored a book, Asian Elegance and did a lot of co-teaching. I distinctly remember the moment when I decided to retire my tools and quit my job as a gardener in the Botanical Garden and put all of my energy into building a quilt business. It felt like jumping off a cliff, either to sink or swim. I had to learn computer skills, design a website, learn about marketing, printing, in addition to designing quilts and kits, teaching and lecturing. I am a left handed right brain person so organization and business skills are not my forte. I have had lots of help along the way from my CPA daughter and graphic artist son as well as encouragement and support from my husband Peter. I also have extraordinary employees who package kits, run the office, and mange the website.
Jen: Tell us about the process for designing your patterns. What are your inspirations?
Sylvia: My design process is very mysterious, it is called trial and error. 1% inspiration and 99% struggle to get it down on paper. I study photos of the images I want to work with and do many drawings on real paper, not on the computer. I often start with the appliqué elements, flowers, fish, etc. and then design the complementary sashiko design around them. Everywhere I go I find inspiration, especially when traveling, experiencing new flora, fauna and indigenous art. I just taught on a cruise to Alaska and was so inspired by the Tlingit and Haida art. I am very affected by the natural environment around me and my future quilts will reflect images from the Pacific Northwest.
Jen: Complete this sentence. When I am not sewing, I am...
Sylvia: ...tending our 1 acre garden of veggies, flowers and fruit, or hiking with our doggies. We have a new granddaughter in Hawaii, so trek often across the pond to visit and catch up with all my quilting friends there too. I also help take care of my 96 year old parents who live 1/2 mile away in assisted living. We try to escape on our little 20 foot sailboat and sail the San Juan islands.
Jen: What is your worst sewing habit?
Sylvia: I never was good at math so I have to measure once, twice, three times or more. It is probably why I like appliqué instead of piecing!
Jen: What is one sewing notion that you can’t live without?
Sylvia: Sewline's starch based fabric glue pen. I use it for 2 of my appliqué methods, and it is indispensable for glue basting.
Jen: Any new big plans for the rest of the year?
Sylvia: I travel and teach but my favorite teaching venue is my own studio. Nothing is better than staying local in our beautiful historic town and meeting quilters from far flung places. We have fabulous light, views, and room for 14 quilters at a time. All the supplies and resources are on hand, no need to bring anything besides basic supplies. We have big gardens where students can forage for flowers and foliage that can be used for printing or translated into sashiko and appliqué designs. The rest of 2016 will be spent traveling to teach and holding two workshops in my studio, Cyanotype and Sashiko and Sashiko and Appliqué. Both workshops are very popular with waiting lists, so I will be scheduling more for 2017. Check my website for dates. I am also working on a book about my appliqué methods.
I am excited to announce the release of our fourth Block of the Month, Coral Reef (31-1/2 inches by 50-1/2 inches) in October 2016. For the first time, I am using different sashiko thread colors for the coral, shells, and waves, combined with appliquéd fish. It will be an 8 month BOM program, and participants have the option of receiving the Coral Reef BOM monthly or saving on postage with a one-time purchase. The co-coordinating fabrics are two beautiful digital prints from Hoffman Fabrics. I have sourced just the right fabrics for the tropical fish, especially from Marjorie Lee Bevis custom Marbled Cotton for the fins and tails. We will include detailed instructions on my favorite methods to pre-form appliquéd fish: heat resistant press-over Mylar, Apliquick, and using a postage label and Sewline Glue.
I am super excited for Sylvia's new Block of the Month. In particular, I love the jellyfish and her use of fabric to illuminate the body of the jellyfish. I just returned from a trip to Central California where I went to the Monterey Bay Aquarium and was mezmerized by the jellyfish exhibit.
Initially, Coral Reef will only be available directly from Sylvia but we plan to stock it at Red Thread Studio as soon as we can! In the meantime, check out the Sylvia Pippen Designs collection at Red Thread Studio.